Thomas J. Schaeper


On his book Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy

Cover Interview of June 08, 2011

The wide angle

Edward Bancroft’s story offers new perspectives on a variety of topics: the history of espionage, French involvement in the American Revolution, the operation of the British government, and the character of persons like Franklin, Adams, and John Paul Jones.

I am not a theoretical kind of historian.  I don’t have big conceptual paradigms through which I view the world.  Through my career I have gravitated toward various topics that have caught my interest and used thorough research and sound analysis to reach conclusions.

When I started my career in the late 1970s, as a freshly-minted Ph.D., I specialized in the economic and financial history of late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century France.  I wrote two books on that topic—admittedly, not of the sort to land on the New York Times bestseller list.

In the late 1980s and 1990s I switched to late eighteenth-century France and wrote two books dealing with French involvement in the American Revolution.  It was while doing research on those projects that I discovered Edward Bancroft.

I began to take notes whenever I found information on him, and I tucked Edward Bancroft in the back of my mind for future reference.  For six years I directed my university’s summer program in Oxford, and that experience took me into yet a different research direction.  I ended up writing a book on the history of American Rhodes Scholars.

After finishing that project I longed to return to my “home” in the eighteenth century.  I checked around with various historian friends and found that the intriguing story of Edward Bancroft still had not been grabbed.  The rest, as they say, is history.